WASHINGTON D.C. – Make no mistake about it, when after a game coach Peter Laviolette is giving one-word answers and general manager Paul Holmgren expresses concern for where his team is situated, the players have to take notice.
They better, or else this unexpectedly slow start is only going to get worse.
For that’s what took place in the nation’s capital Friday, and it couldn’t be more frustrating as the mistakes appear to be the same again and again.
Turnovers. Not getting pucks deep. Bad timing on substitutions. A continued struggle to score. Shots being blocked practically at will.
And another notch in the loss column.
Laviolette had hoped that two days of practice combined with the fact that the Capitals, also scuffling near the bottom of the standings, were coming off a game the night before and had to travel, would play to his team’s advantage.
For awhile it seemed that it would, but the mistakes caught up to the Flyers and the result was a 3-2 loss that dropped the team to 2-6-0 and into last place in the Eastern Conference.
“I think we started slow for whatever reason,” Holmgren said. “But then we got into the game after the first eight or 10 minutes and then we made a couple mistakes that cost us goals.
“I’m concerned because we’re falling behind here. We have to get going.”
It was difficult to get going in a choppy first period that was highlighted by more stellar play from goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Flyers netminder was equal to everything the Caps threw at him – and it was plenty – early in the game, keeping the Flyers in a contest that was certainly favoring Washington.
But then the Flyers started to play better hockey, carrying the play more, winning puck battles and creating opportunities.
The Flyers were again bitten by the injury bug in the first period though, as Wayne Simmonds was elbowed in the face by John Erskine, and fell to the ice hard, hitting his head.
He was bleeding slightly from his nose and had to be attended to by the training staff.
He spent time on the bench before walking up the tunnel and never returned to the game.
Oh, and there was no penalty called on the play.
“When I saw it live I [thought] two players were colliding at the puck,” Holmgren said. “But when I saw the replay, I don’t know why his elbow came up. I think John’s that kind of player. I don’t think he’s a dirty player. Those things happen.”
Laviolette saw it a different way.
“It was dirty when I first saw it,” Laviolette said. “[It was a] tough hit.”
Holmgren added that Simmonds has a “head injury” and “probably a little bit of a whiplash going on.”
Simmonds will be re-evaluated tomorrow and his status for the game against Carolina is unknown.
Zac Rinaldo tried to jump start the Flyers on the next shift, and dropped the gloves on the faceoff with Caps tough guy Matt Hendricks.
Rinaldo got the better of his opponent, but both guys were tossed from the game because they fought before the puck was dropped.
However, they were duped a bit because the linesmen faked the puck drop and immediately turned around to see the combatants drop their gloves.
“Zac always brings a lot of energy to the lineup,” Laviolette said. “He was just trying to get his team going.”
So in a matter of seconds the Flyers were down to 10 forwards – and more than two-thirds of the game remained.
It didn’t seem to be much of an issue at first, as the Flyers took the lead on Bruno Gervais’ first goal with the team, albeit from an unexpected spot.
Danny Briere and Tye McGinn – who filled in valiantly for Simmonds on the top line after he was knocked out of the game – where whacking away at a loose puck at the feet of goalie Braden Holtby. The puck squirted loose and there to jam it into the open net was Gervais, giving the Flyers the lead.
With the way Bryzgalov was playing, it appeared that one goal might be enough for the Flyers, but then a costly mistake by a handful of players ended up costing the Flyers that lead.
After a defensive zone faceoff following an icing, the Flyers won the puck and started to break out of their end.
Tired from the shift before, Braydon Coburn and Nick Grossmann made their way to the bench for a change, but in a more deliberate manner rather than with urgency.
Meanwhile, Sean Couturier made the mistake of trying to carry the puck into the Capitals zone rather than dumping it deep, knowing his line had to change.
John Carlson stripped Couturier of the puck and outleted a pass to Nicklas Backstrom, who was literally all alone at the Flyers blue line as the defensemen were still changing.
Backstrom broke in a lone and beat Bryzgalov with a high backhander to the glove side to tie the score.
Tne Flyers went into the second intermission knowing they’d have to start the third period down two men because of late second period penalties and would need a big kill.
They got it, but rather than have it change the momentum, it blew up in their face when Luke Schenn couldn’t corral a loose puck and a few passes later, Troy Brouwer was snapping a shot through Schenn, who tried to block it, and off the butt end of Bryzgalov’s stick to give the Caps the lead.
Then things really went blotto when a faceoff won clean back to Schenn at the point handcuffed the Flyers defenseman and popped through to the neutral zone. While going back to recover the puck, Wojtek Wolski poked it away, then sprinted around Schenn for a breakaway and scored on a shot that clipped Bryzgalov’s left pad and went in the net for 3-1.
“It was turnovers,” Laviolette said. “But we need to compete better as well.”
Asked specifically about the play and if it was a mental mistake by Schenn, Laviolette dodged the question.
“I don’t know,” he said.
However, the Flyers could never find the equalizer, and come home having lost three straight, missing three starters due to injury, with a thoroughly annoyed coach, and a season teetering on the edge heading into just it’s ninth game.
“Bryz had to hold down the fort the first 10 minutes, and we played better after that,” said Mike Knuble. “But that’s 10 minutes too long where it takes you to wake up, especially when you’re playing a team that played the night before.
“That should be the cue to have a real strong, first 10 minutes.”
Anything would be a positive for the Flyers, whose season is certainly on the brink.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37
Special thanks to @JBPhi for the Gordon Bombay reference.